Diagnosing some of the nation’s most embarrassing medical conditions has led to her becoming one of the UK’s most recognisable doctors. We had a quick catch up with Dr Pixie McKenna in between her busy schedule, as we chatted about Embarrassing Bodies, hangover cures, STIs and mental health.
Hi Pixie! Thanks for having a quick chat with us. ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ has been running now for eight years! You’ve seen some pretty remarkable medical conditions on the show. What would you say is the most shocking thing you’ve seen and are there any parts of the body that you don’t particularly like to deal with?
Nothing shocks me anymore if I’m honest. The real shock factor is that people live with skin conditions, smells, wonky body parts and a whole host of embarrassing ailments that they keep undercover. I think it’s a sad reflection of us as a society that people are so embarrassed by such things and an equally sad reflection of the medical profession that we can’t get on and fix them.
Ok, that’s me off my soap box! The body part I hate dealing with most has to be feet – ironically, I always seem to get the cheesy feet cases on EB. My own feet are pretty fierce, which adds to my distaste when I come to doctoring that part of the anatomy.
Lots of people on the show are deeply affected by their conditions. Is it hard not to get emotionally involved with patients?
As a doctor you do get emotionally involved with your patients, if you don’t care then get a career in banking! What’s crucial though is being able to switch off and leave work at work – otherwise it’s emotionally draining.
You spend pretty much most of your day diagnosing other people’s conditions. Do you ever get a bit paranoid and start diagnosing yourself?
I’m a terrible patient! I’m healthy and do not unduly worry about my health, but if something goes wrong I have a hit list of doctors on speed dial. I’m a control freak where health is concerned, so I need to know someone’s CV before they get their hands on me. As soon as I trust the doctor I then switch off and just let them do their thing.
I’m more concerned about death since the birth of my daughter. I feel more mortal since growing up and
becoming a parent. Previously, I was a bit more of a “fl y by the seat of my pants” girl!
When you’re out food shopping, do you ever worry people will judge you if they see you put unhealthy items in the trolley?!
All the time because I know I judge them! I put all the nasty stuff like crisps and beer at the bottom and cover it up with veg! I live in Cambridge, so my supermarket is full of students. Usually my trolley is extremely healthy in comparison to the students in the queue!
As I’m sure you’re aware, University students tend to consume rather a lot of alcohol! What’s the maximum amount of units they should have per week and do you have any tips for curing a hangover?
14 for a female and 21 for a male. Ideally, have alcohol free days and try not to have more than 6 units in one sitting. Your liver needs a break. It’s got more than 500 jobs to do over and above distilling cider and alco pops,
so give it a rest so it can reboot! My staple hangover cure back in the day was barbecue Hula Hoops and milk,
but the best remedy is rehydration, avoid anything too fatty, steer clear of caffeine and anything carbonated
and opt for carbs. Drinking water before bed also helps.
Sex isn’t unheard of at Uni either! What are the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and what are their symptoms?
Not all infections have symptoms, so don’t decide you are disease free based on the absence of symptoms. Chlamydia is an incredibly common condition, which may result in discharge, pain or frequently
passing urine, pelvic or testicle pain, or irregular bleeding. My top tips would be – be aware of cystitis that
doesn’t seem to clear, as it could be chlamydia. Always use condoms for oral sex – I’ve treated countless
patients for chlamydia in the throat, most of whom didn’t realise they could catch it there. Any orifice that
has been exposed requires a test, so if you have taken a risk, visit your doctor and take a test.
Students may also struggle with their mental health. If a student’s missing home a lot, feeling like
they’re not making friends, or is stressed about work, what would you recommend they do?
Talk about it. University is an immense change and it can be overwhelming. Lack of sleep, too much
socialisation and the pressure to study and achieve high grades can be enormous. Student health services are
excellent at dealing with adjustment issues, so share your concerns with a health care professional and your peers.